J. M. W. Turner - War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet 1842

War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet 1842
War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet
1842 79x79cm oil/canvas
Tate Gallery, London, UK

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The artwork, ostensibly of the exiled Napoleon on his island prison of St Helena, alluded to Wilkie's close friend Haydon. Haydon was famous both for his own pictures of Napoleon and for the egotism, paranoia and constant warfare with colleagues, critics and patrons that had by this time brought him to a state of professional exile. Peace is more than a farewell to a friend: it signals approval for the exemplary harmony in which Wilkie had lived. Its companion piece is a warning and a rebuke.
In the War, the Exile and the Rock Limpet, Napoleon, the man who once ruled the world is reduced to a costumed doll, his reflection conversing in a puddle with a rock limpet. The dying sun dominates the centre of the picture and symbolizes world chaos, in which history is played out only as the downfall of an individual. The futility of man's existence is presented to us by Turner as the ultimate futility of history. Power and decline, greatness and absurdity, importance and banality coincide here.